As many as 7.1-million jobs could be lost through redundancy, automation or disintermediation, globally over the next five years, with the greatest losses in white-collar office and administrative roles, a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, titled ‘The Future of Jobs’, warns.
The report, which looked at the fourth industrial revolution, noted that developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning, robotics, nanotechnology, three-dimensional printing and genetics and biotechnology, would not only cause widespread disruption to business models, but also to labour markets.
However, this loss was predicted to be partially offset by the creation of 2.1-million new jobs, mainly in more specialised ‘job families’, such as computer and mathematical or architecture and engineering.
Healthcare was expected to experience the greatest negative impact, followed jointly by the energy and financial services and investors sectors, while the industry that stood to create the most jobs, was information and communication technology, followed by professional services and media, entertainment and information.
“Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality and businesses with a shrinking consumer base,” WEF chairperson Klaus Schwab cautioned.
There was also a gender implication to the future of jobs. Based on the absolute job gains and losses, the burden of job losses seemed to fall nearly equally on women (48%) and men (52%).
However, given that men represented a larger share of the overall job market than women, this even spread would translate into a widening of the employment gender gap, with women losing five jobs for every job gained compared with men losing three jobs for every job gained.
The report was based on a survey of chief human resources (HR) officers and top strategy executives from companies across nine broad industry categories and covering 15 of the world's largest economies, including South Africa.
The employment outlook was net positive in only five of the 15 countries covered but, even in those countries, there was significant job churn – with some functions becoming redundant as new ones emerged.
Using the forecasts from chief HR officers and current employment data, the highest ratios of jobs created per job lost was expected to be in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with 3.72 jobs gained per job lost, Mexico at 3.06, the UK at 2.91, the US at 1.37 and Turkey at 1.14.
In all other countries covered by the report, there was an expected net loss in jobs.